Experimenting with adding a "new stage" to mixing

I believe that I track and mix in a pretty conventional way. I track safely with hardware eq and compression adding only a little if needed or if it helps the vibe. Next, I edit. Lastly, I mix.

I am going to be repatching the studio in July to add my tape machines back into my system so I can access them more easily. This has made me rethink my whole methodology even when not using tape machines.

When I repatch my studio I create a giant spreadsheet to lay it all out. As I started to look at doing some tracking on Tape I need to track in a much more “finished” way. For example, compressing and gating toms while tracking etc. When limited to 16 tracks I’ll probably need to Mult the tom top and bottom tom mics to one track instead of recording them on separate tracks etc.

This got me thinking about the ease of mixing. When things are tracked in a more “finished” way mixing becomes easier if you get it right. If you get it wrong it is much more difficult.

As an aside I remembered Eric Valentine said in an interview that when players come in to record guitar with him, he records a DI track and their amp while they are there. After they leave he will re-amp the guitars and spend hours getting guitar sounds used for the album and recording them. Essentially he breaks it into “getting the performance” and then “getting sounds”. This is absolutely backward to “conventional recording” where we do a sound check and then get the performance. It makes far more sense to me though because it is much easier to “get a sound” when you have the performance. Usually, I record a DI track as a backup and after a few years of doing this and never using it, I abanded the whole idea. Recording with a DI with the full intention of abandoning the mic’d tracks is new.

Next, the issue of hardware. This applies more to people working with hardware than mixers that are totally ITB. I have certain hardware pieces that I prefer over others. When I am doing a mix and I start scraping the bottom of the barrel for compressors it is not a good feeling. Unless I get unlimited money I’ll not invest in 5 Manley Vari mu’s. I’ll need to settle for the one I have.

My epiphany came when I started looking at how I would track drums to my DAW now. I want to have things more finished and have the safety of raw tracks. When tracking drums I can record my usual 16 tracks of mics and a parallel feed of each track to another console channel giving me 32 tracks. Some tracks won’t need a parallel feed like overheads, hi-hat etc. When mixing I can choose to use either the raw track, the parallel track with compression and eq or both.

This is all fine and dandy until I need to record drums and play them. Setting gain levels is hard enough by yourself. Trying to set up a compressor when you’re the one playing the kit…impossible.

This leads to the final thought. If I need to record drums and play them or if I need to get through a session quickly with less soundcheck time I can record only raw tracks as per usual. After I am done tracking I can resend out the drum tracks to my console and use all the hardware goodness to get the “heavy lifting” out of the way. These would get re-recorded back into the daw. I am calling this the “premix” stage" The goal would be to get sources about 85% finished as opposed to raw tracks that are 50-60% finished sounding while tracking. This does create another round trip but my converters are so good now I am not concerned about this.

I would expect that I would spend more time up front getting sounds but end up with quicker mixes that leave me in a more creative mode rather than repair mode while mixing. I could use better hardware in more places. For example, instead of my Manley vari-mu living on my vocal buss, it would be used to track Oh’s through(with no compression, it makes Oh’s sparkle) and then again for a drum parallel buss when “pre-mixing”. When I do a final mix it would end up on vocal buss again.

I am getting a bunch of live events out of the way over the next two weeks and then I have the first week of July booked to repatch the studio. The second week I have a bunch sessions booked again where I will try this out. I may be outsmarting myself and creating a bunch of extra work or I may get better mixes. I’ll post as I go.

What do you guys think about this?


I like it. I wish i could come and try it out with you, it sounds like fun, even the hard parts.

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I have a couple of engineering friends that are going to have a “break in” party with after it is complete. It will be fun. I can’t guarantee the quality of the music. We all like scotch:)

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I’m anxious to hear the results!!

But the sound is part of the motivation to put in a good performance. As a producer I always try to get the best sound possible so that the talent is excited and provides the best possible performance. I would think it unreasonable of myself to expect a top performance from a musician if I haven’t provided him/her with a top sound.